Is openSUSE the Developers’ Linux Distro Holy Grail?

With the solution to a two-distro system, a stable rolling release, an active community and features that make a developer’s life easier, see why this distro may be the right choice for you.

Is there a perfect Linux distro for development? DevPro Journal set out to find the answer. After taking a look at the most common Linux distributions (aka distros) that developers use, we dug a little deeper, looking for insights from current users. The response and information from the openSUSE community was fast and enthusiastic, offering compelling reasons why this may be the perfect developer distro.

Chameleon-Like Changes

With changes to SUSE over its history, the official chameleon logo seems pretty appropriate. In 2015, the openSUSE project restructured, creating two versions: Leap and Tumbleweed. Tumbleweed is a rolling release, so users always have access to the newest Linux packages, and Leap is openSUSE’s regular-release, with guaranteed stability.

In his “My Move to SUSE” presentation at the 2017 openSUSE Conference, SaltStack CEO Thomas Hatch says, “I lived in a two distro world. I needed a different distro for my laptop than for the servers in the data center.” With Leap and Tumbleweed, however, Hatch says he has a rolling release as well as a free OS that’s more than sufficiently stable to run the vast majority of his server needs.

Hatch also believes SUSE has the best release policies and release cycles among all Linux distros. “The world of open source is a rolling world. Not having a rolling release that is stabilized means that your users must always be behind the curve. And Tumbleweed solves it in a way which is infinitely more elegant than any other rolling release.”

He adds, “Having an open source release which is stable enough to run in a server environment is an extremely important aspect of a Linux distribution. And deploying that piece of software in such a way that enables users to get to know SUSE and get to know what an enterprise and an extremely stable SUSE environment feels like is a smart business model.”

Advantages of openSUSE for the Developer

Aaron Burgemeister of A2B Tech, LLC, says before using openSUSE he tried several distributions, including Slackware, Debian, Fedora, and Gentoo. “They all had their areas, but none fit me perfectly. I have also used enterprise distros along the way — SUSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) primarily, but also Red Hat’s version — but I prefer the community releases.”

“With other distros, I had less-than-stellar experiences with hardware support or getting current software (KDE/Gnome, productivity/office software, accounting software, etc.) without building it myself,” he adds.

openSUSE is his current choice for development for several reasons, including the quality of the shipped software and “the insane number of options provided via the Open Build Service (OBS).” Burgemeister explains that OBS allows a person with interest in package A to share it with another person via openSUSE’s servers using the native package management functions of the distribution. “OBS means that even if openSUSE is five minutes behind the latest code upstream, somebody else has probably built it and the tested package is available to anybody on a variety of platforms, not just openSUSE or SLES.”

As for the experience of using openSUSE, he comments, “Working as a developer, everything is just smooth. git is available natively, Eclipse and other IDEs just work, the capabilities behind KDE make me much more productive than I feel I would be otherwise, and the performance is awesome, even on my definitely-not-new laptop. Also, in my work, openSUSE’s shared base with SLES is a big advantage because I can test a lot of software either directly on my laptop or in a VM that runs in KVM, VirtualBox, VMware, or in a container, so I do not necessarily need another box — or even a VM sometimes — to do proper development and testing in a sandbox environment,” Burgemeister says. In addition, openSUSE natively supports full disk encryption, so, says Burgemeister, “It is literally one click during the installation to enable encryption of the whole disk. This is useful since companies do not want their data walking off when hardware is stolen or lost, and it should be the default for anybody who cares about personal information as well.”

Additional, valuable openSUSE tools include:

Burgemeister says, “That leads to another benefit: Btrfs is just awesome. I’ve trained others on using it and the ability to compare changes in software or to rollback from a bad patch, including the kernel. It is an amazing feature and safety net.  Having Btrfs integrated as tightly as it is with the OS, including via YaST and Zypper, means the benefits are there without needing to do manual tweaking to set it up.”

The openSUSE Community

Another of openSUSE’s advantages is its active community. “The community is very open and discusses and collaborates on solving issues in an open manner,” says Douglas DeMaio, the manager of marketing and public relations for the openSUSE Project. “openSUSE offers a rational and systematic approach to contributing to the project. Developing for the openSUSE Tumbleweed distribution offers developers direct feedback and communication as they contribute to the distribution. That communication continues into openSUSE Leap and even helps for developers developing for SUSE Linux Enterprise. The Open Build Service also provides direct feedback.”

DeMaio adds, “openSUSE has several supported ARM boards. Perhaps the most out of all the Linux distributions. Furthermore, its community is welcoming and information sharing information is plentiful. As a community, we are willing to help where we can.”

Advice for New Users

Burgemeister says, as with anything you are trying for the first time, give openSUSE some time, and if you come across something unexpected, go to the forums for information or to ask questions. He says the collective experience among the user base is huge, “so a good answer is out there.”

Would he recommend openSUSE to any developer? Burgemeister says, “I cannot think of an environment where I would want to change distros, so I think if a developer is willing to try something new then it is a good distro for anybody.”

Do you agree? If you’d like to share your opinion of the best Linux distro for development, contact the staff at DevPro Journal

Bernadette Wilson

Bernadette Wilson, a DevPro Journal contributor, has 19 years of experience as a journalist, writer, editor, and B2B marketer.

Bernadette Wilson, a DevPro Journal contributor, has 19 years of experience as a journalist, writer, editor, and B2B marketer.